Something Real by Heather Demetrios
Published: 2014, Henry Holt and Company
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
I’m sitting here on the Kaye Gibbons Show, and all I can think is that the whole country is sick. Sick with this idea that it’s good to be known and seen by as many people as possible, to show every part of our lives to the public at large. Whether it’s Facebook photos, blogs, or reality TV, it’s like nobody is content to just live life. The worth of our existence seems to be measured in pixels and megabytes and “likes.” Those of us whose lives can be downloaded seem to have the most value--until someone more outrageous comes along to claim their time in the spotlight.
Everyone in the United States was able to witness the first thirteen years of Bonnie Baker’s life, from her birth until the reality television show starring her family was cancelled. Adjusting to a normal life over the past four years - one without instant recognition or constant cameras - hasn’t been easy, but Bonnie (who has rechristened herself as Chloe) is finally getting to the point where she can let the demons of her childhood go. She’s a senior at a public high school now and may not have any idea of what she wants to do next, but at least she gets to choose (without tens of thousands of people watching her).
But then her mother and stepfather throw a completely unexpected curveball in Chloe’s direction: they’re starting the show up once more. Providing for thirteen children is more than they can manage on their own, and everyone seems eager to be part of America’s most-liked family once more. Everyone except for Chloe. She has two best friends and a crush who looks like he may become something more very soon, and she is determined to prevent the show from ruining everything good in her life.
I’ll admit I’m a bit surprised at how very good this story about a reality television show family really is. Demetrios has authored a well-written, insightful, and very genuine story here, and it was ever so delightful to read.
Fame and riches are major enticements in life, and I’d hazard a guess that most people have spent time imaging what their lives would be like if they were famous. I know I have. That’s why we see so many stories about ordinary people being thrust into fame, or people struggling with the consequences that fame brings. While hardly a new concept, Demetrios still brings a good amount of depth and poignancy to the topic. Chloe is hardly just another “poor little famous girl,” but one who is emotionally and mentally damaged from all that the show has done to her.
Something Real forces its readers to consider the implications of fame: including a loss of freedom, a loss of identity. At points, even losing touch with reality. Chloe and her siblings have spent their lives being pigeonholed into certain stereotypes: Bonnie is the rebellious teen, Benton: the easygoing one, Lexie: the sexy one, and so on. And at times it’s unclear what came first: their label or their personality and subsequent actions. “Baker’s Dozen” takes reality television to what appears to be a more extreme level than what is currently allowed, but much of it still rings true. It poses the sort of questions that need to be asked, regardless of whether or not we will like the answers.
I suppose I should talk more about the book itself. In addition to its discerning critique of reality culture, this novel really shines in its characterizations. Demetrios has written a complex, diverse cast that all feel very much real. Chloe is the sort of protagonist who is easy to empathize with. Her parents splitting up was one of the main reasons that the show “Baker’s Dozen” was cancelled, but Bonnie’s inability to cope with her life in constant spotlight also contributed to the end of her family’s claim to fame. And now she wants nothing more than to have a normal teenage life. Chloe’s relationships with her mom, her dad, her stepfather, her siblings, her friends, and her crush Patrick also really give insight into her characterization. But no character seems to serve merely as a prop for Chloe’s development, either.
The rawness of emotions is another point in this book’s favor. For much of the novel, Chloe feels trapped and alternates between lashing out or internalizing her emotions. Her emotions (and her character in general) are so easily identifiable. To be fair, the story is told from her perspective, but I think I would have identified most with Chloe even if she was not the protagonist. I do also appreciate that Chloe is perceptive enough to start to see her friends and family as multilayered beings, each with their own set of motives and aspirations.
I could find little at fault in this novel. That doesn’t mean that this is a perfect novel, but rather that the majority its flaws are easily overshadowed by all that is done right.
There is one thing that did bother me, however. Because it is basically impossible to read a book without letting your own life experiences have at least a tiny bit of an influence, an aside: The use of trademarks within this novel is completely and utterly wrong. That is, assuming that this story is supposed to take place within modern-day America. After working for an intellectual property law firm for the past two and a half years, I wanted to point out that this is not how U.S. Trademark Law works.
There are a few main rules that companies must keep in mind when applying for trademark protection: 1) they cannot trademark anything indicative of the services they provide, and 2) they cannot trademark anything generic (or something that has meaning and use outside of their product). There are other rules that govern trademark use, but those are the most important when considering Something Real. By those rules, Bonnie and her siblings could never, ever have their first names trademarked. Doing so would mean that every other person who was named Bonnie, Benton, Lexie, Farrow, Riley, Gavin, Tristan, DeShaun, Deston, Lark, Daisy, Violet, or Jasmine would be infringing upon the Baker siblings’ rights and would be liable to face a lawsuit. And let’s not mention the fact that stores called “Bonnie’s Flowers” or “Lexie’s Hallmark” would also cease to exist.
I understand that Demetrios is trying to make emphasize how life for the Baker children is one giant advertisement/that they’ve essentially become products. I do. But two seconds of searching U.S. Trademark Law would have shown the impossibility of trademarking their names, and it’s a bit disappointing that no one involved in the production of this book thought to double-check this.
Really, though, I doubt the improper use of trademarks would have given me any pause had I not had this experience to fall back upon. In many ways, Something Real is about the little things in life and finding out what really matters to each individual person. Chloe’s case presents a rather extreme example, but at the end of the day, all she really wants is a chance to enjoy normalcy: graduating high school, hanging out with friends, falling into love, being genuine with her family. It certainly can make readers think about all we appreciate in our own lives, and what steps we would take if our freedom to choose was threatened.
Rating: 4.5 stars